Row over human settlement minister’s “lift” dismissal

Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi’s efforts to “clarify” what she called “misleading media reports”, sees her accused of “deliberately lying”

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Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi has sought “to clarify” “misleading media reports”, while the Public Service Association accuses her of “deliberately lying”. Photo from government website.

  • Minister of Human Settlements Mmamoloko Kubayi claims the deputy director she dismissed was undergoing “various disciplinary procedures” when she was fired.
  • The Public Service Association (PSA) says this is not true and insists Nelly Letsholonyane was fired after the minister got stuck in a lift.
  • The PSA says Letsholonyane has only one unrelated disciplinary hearing pending and the minister “abused her power”.
  • The minister’s spokesperson says Kubayi intends to take legal action against the PSA for its statement.

While the Minister of Human Settlements Mmamoloko Kubayi claimed being stuck in a lift for more than an hour did not lead to her dismissing one of the department’s deputy directors, the Public Service Association (PSA) has accused her of “deliberately lying”.

In a statement released on 8 June, the PSA said Nelly Letsholonyane was dismissed by the minister “on the basis that a lift was malfunctioning and that the minister was trapped in the lift”.

GroundUp reported on a judgment out of the Johannesburg Labour Court in which Acting Judge Molatelo Makhura said Minister Kubayi’s conduct in firing Letsholonyane was “unlawful”.

Makhura said the lift incident had occurred on 14 March.

Letsholonyane was called into the Minister’s office the following day and issued with a letter of intention to institute disciplinary proceedings against her for her “gross negligence” threatening the lives of employees.

Subsequently, she was given the options of dismissal, facing a disciplinary hearing, or taking early retirement.

Lethsholonyane, who was three years from retirement, opted for early retirement “under protest”.

But in April she was summarily dismissed.

Judge Makhura noted that the minister had not followed the procedures in the Senior Management Service Handbook, which prescribed a disciplinary hearing must be held.

He ordered Lethsholonyane be immediately reinstated.

However, the minister has now applied to the Labour Appeal Court for permission to appeal Judge Makhura’s ruling.

While that decision is pending, Letsholonyane is at home, without receiving any pay.

On the same day GroundUp published its report on 5 June, the minister issued a press statement (erroneously dated 5 May) to “clarify” “misleading media reports” saying that Letsholonyane was dismissed because of the lift incident.

While her office said it took no issue with the report, or the accuracy of it, the statement read: “It is important to note that Ms Letsholonyane has been undergoing various disciplinary processes including those that precede the arrival of Minister Kubayi at the Department of Human Settlements.

“The Minister firmly believes that Ms Letsholonyane was presented with several allegations of misconduct and afforded an opportunity to make a written representation as to why she should not be dismissed. The Minister considered the representation and found the explanation to be insufficient.

“The matter is still ongoing in court, and once it has been finalised the Minister will issue a media statement.”

Judge Makhura’s ruling made no mention of any other disciplinary issues.

The PSA, in its 8 June media statement, referred to another disciplinary matter involving Letsholonyane before the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council, which GroundUp has been informed is unrelated to the lift incident.

It said “no conclusion has been reached”.

“The Minister stated that the disciplinary process of a PSA member had been concluded. It is not clear why the Minister was deliberately lying about the matter whilst she knows the facts,” the PSA said.

“The chairperson of the proceedings on two occasions requested the parties to mediate. The department’s failure to respond to these requests has stalled the process.”

“The Minister dismissed the PSA member on the basis that the lift was malfunctioning and that the Minister was trapped in the lift.”

“The Minister abused her power.”

The PSA “urged” the minister to retract the misleading statement and engage with the parties involved in the disciplinary process.

Approached for comment, ministerial spokesperson Nozipho Zulu said the minister would “respond legally”.

“The minister has been in touch with the PSA branch to gain understanding of what this statement is about, but she’s intending to take legal actions on this matter.”

Zulu said Letsholonyana was not represented by the PSA at the bargaining council but by her own lawyers.

“This proves again how unreliable Ms Letsholonyane is. She’s even making things up,” she said.

But Letsholonyana said Zulu had got it “completely wrong” and the PSA had always represented her during the internal process.

When the matter came before an independent chair before the bargaining council, the PSA had appointed a lawyer to represent her. The lawyer, she said, reported to the PSA. “It is unfortunate that a Minister, who has no authority to dismiss nor discipline a Deputy Director General, is getting all her facts wrong.”

She said there was no other internal disciplinary process against her.

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